Getting Cozi with Varun Dhawan

The Indian male underwear market is one strange place. We instantly hook on to the sexual undertones of it with the likes of “yeh to bada toing hai” but refuse to play it out and loud.

The market is cluttered with bollywood stars pretending to don a Amul macho “badey araam se” to pretending to “suno bas apne dil ki” with Lux Cozi. Most of it is unbelievable to an evolved audience with the communication that has a strong focus on lower middle class to mass which still looks up to bollywood stars for credibility and style indications. However, in this entire circus of a market, the most recent Lux Cozi campaign has managed to do what no other brand in recent memory has been able to – get the pants off a bonafide bollywood star!

Check out the ad here:

Towards the end of the commercial a very confident Varun Dhawan is left in his boxer briefs, all set to be driven away by a lady clearly impressed by what she sees. While the commercial in itself is not entirely path breaking, Varun Dhawan is! So far bollywood men have earned crores out of advertising men’s undergarments by just walking around in a white vest and leaving what’s under the pants to interpretation. A very shy desi male version of “choli ke peeche kya hai” – sorry had to be said.

But along comes Varun Dhawan, takes his pants off and literally shows off a potential to reshape this market. Jockey has been a leader in the men’s undergarment segment for the longest time. A brand very smartly built without a celebrity quotient. A parallel trend has been the premiumisation and urbanization of men’s underwear designs. Most recently, apparel brands such as Van Heusen made a sharp entry into the segment.

What Lux Cozi has got here is a potential mass disrupter in the form of Varun Dhawan. While most bollywood celebs are busy playing coy, Varun Dhawan going the extra mile could pull off a coup. How?

Think about it. Internationally, most iconic male sport celebrities have their own line of underwear; from Ronaldo to Beckham. Hell even Brett Lee experimented with it. In India however, the male celebrity quotient is limited to bollywood and cricket. I do not see Virat Kohli dropping is trousers for a risque underwear campaign. He seems content diluting his brand from an aggressive, sexy, alpha man to a loveable family man. That Wrogn brand is all WRONG.

Varun Dhawan could potentially be India’s first iconic imagery of men’s undergarments – think Mark Wahlberg for Calvin Kleins. If I was at the helm of Lux Cozi, I would have Varun Dhawan strip to 50 different types of underwear styles and use it as packaging creative. Massive billboards across all cities under a new sub brand, and voila Jockey might just be under threat.

Question is, will Lux realize the dynamite potential Varun Dhawan has as a brand ambassador or will it be another case of a tick mark bollywood brand ambassador taken on board for “just another campaign”.


From Fastrack to Yawn-track

There once was a brand that did everything off –white. It was the voice for the youth, edgy, trendy, affordable and more than anything else on-point every time. Then it all went firang, aspirational, premiumization, imagery conscious etc. etc. and associated bull shit like that.

That in short, is the story of fastrack

The brand that started off from the house of Titan, shook off the stiff upper lip Tata heritage of the mother brand to be a rebellious teen with an attitude that reeked of the millennials before the term was coined. One of India’s best youth targeted brand no doubt.

From getting the sex symbol John Abraham on board in the early years to an orgasm imitating “Yes Sir!!” commercial; from the suggestive “How many you have?” to a non-chalant “Move On”- Fastrack was always bang-on with the pulse of the youth. The “move on” campaign was the last impactful piece of communication. Off late though, the models are all foreigners, the execution un-relatable and the attitude has crossed over the lines of cool to venture into wanna-be.

Usually such drastic changes are a result of some shake up in the organization. The recent changes reflect a desperate attempt to come across as bold rather than a confident execution of a naturally born rebel.

This seems to be a perennial problem with all of Titan’s brands. Wanting to be something they are not. Titan continues to try and convince us that is not an uptight brand, Fastrack wants to be international and Raga is being pushed as the modern Indian woman’s brand when it is all about ethnic sensuality.

One wonders how long before the organization gets its marbles in order on the brand building front. For all the massive turnover, the equity is very suspect!




The Colonial Cola War

Decades ago, Coca Cola virtually forced Parle to sell off its brands Thums Up, Limca,  Gold Spot and Citra. While Thums Up and Limca managed to survive, itra and Goldspot were sacrificed to make way for Fanta and Sprite respectively.

There were multiple attempts to kill off Thums Up too, just to ensure that Coca Cola as a brand is well entrenched and an undisputed leader. Of course a white washed colonial mindset is hardly a match of pure greed. So once it was evident that killing Thums Up would only mean ceding ground to Pepsi, Coca Cola swallowed its western pride and allowed Thums Up to continue.

I bring this up because one of the most unspoken topics of Indian marketing is the racist and step motherly treatment meted out to Indian brands that MNCs acquire. At times even good old greed cannot make them see reason.

Coca Cola started investing in Thums Up with the sole objective of keeping it float and flank the mother brand with it. The equity of brand Thums Up was always and continues to be much higher than what Coca Cola as a brand could ever hope for.

And yet, while Coke went about launching Diet Coke, Coke Zero, the flop Vanilla Coke etc. Thums managed to get its first extension only now in the form of Thums Up Charged. It is unfathomable that had Thums Up been with an Indian organization, they would not have attempted to piggy back on the brand’s equity with extensions.

Where exactly is Limca too? One hardly sees the brand in terms of BTL branding or ATL communication. Being relegated as a flanker brand for Sprite.

Coca Cola is just one of the many MNCs who acquire Indian brands only to kill them and make space for themselves. Because truth be told, the most potent threat to MNCs have always been brands and organization that understood India better

While Unilever and P&G fought bitterly in detergent market, it was Kanpur based Ghadi detergent making a mark

While Unilever and Reckitt bombarded media in the 99% penetration category, the biggest competitors are Godrej, Wipro and ITC

So as Thums gets its first variant, irrespective of the success or the failure of it, the desi cola has no doubt brought the gori company to its senses all on its own.

Someone bury Lever’s Ayush already !

Dear Unilver India,

Consider this as an open letter that every Indian personal care product consumer wants to pen to you but will never actually bother to.

For the longest time, you have tried to push Ayush as an Ayurvedic brand into our households. It has been strongly resisted and we shall continue to resist it. It is appalling that you believe that your vulgar display of media spends will make us change our minds. Ayush was a battle lost long ago. It doesn’t help that your lack of confidence in the brand is naked to us with the branding of “LEVER” Ayush.

You never bothered to call it “LEVER” Fair & Lovely or “LEVER” ponds or “LEVER” Dove. this crutch of “LEVER” is an embarrassing attempt at trying to beg for an opportunity from the consumers. It lays bare your hollow claim that the brand has any pull amongst us. Not to mention your commercial with Akshay Kumar was downright tacky and cringe worthy. Hell even ASCI pulled you up for it!

We understand that our fling with Patanjali is making you tremble hence let us make you shiver in fear by admitting that it isn’t a fling. Patanjali is here to stay. For an organization that has brands ranging from Dove to Lakme, Pears to Fair & Lovely, it is astonishing how you could never crack a “natural/ayurvedic/herbal” skin care brand. The chinks in your armour are showing.

Instead of attempting to resurrect a dead horse or making a laughable attempt at naturals with a Citra, how about you actually acquire a home grown naturals brand instead?

Knowing when to give up and admit a failure is a sign of a mature leader too.




The consumer who brushes teeth with Dantkanti and Shampoos hair with Kesh Kanti

The Celebrity Double Cross

I am old enough to remember when Coca Cola was not about happiness and Pepsi was still relevant to pop culture. The two cola giants went head to head in India and the weapon of choice was celebrities. If it was Shah Rukh Khan for Pepsi, it was Aamir Khan for Coca Cola. If it was Sachin Tendulkar for Pepsi, it was Hrithik Roshan for Coca Cola.

The world of advertising was busy pitching the next big celeb for the cola majors. It is then but obvious to be amused by recent reports of Virat Kohli turning down a Pepsi endorsement since he does not consume the product. It has little to do with him consuming the product.

If it really was about consuming the product, will Virat Kohli have us believe that while he does not use fairness creams and does not drink Pepsi, he lives in Nitesh Estates. He also uses something called as ‘ROYAL CHALLENGE’ sports drink?

Do we really believe Hrithik Roshan wears Macroman chaddis? or varun Dhawan lounges in his Lux Cozi. Does Amitabh Bachchan use Navratna Oil? Or Shahrukh khan Navratna talc?

The craft of carving your own celeb brand will claim some victims. Prominent among them, Cola drinks and Skin lightening brands such as Fair & Lovely.

Notice how in the last few months we had reports of everyone from Kangana Ranaut to Taapsee Pannu; From Anushka Sharma to Ileana D’Cruz refuse fairness cream endorsement.

Most recently Priyanka Chopra attributed her past endorsement of a fairness cream to immaturity and lack of a better judgment. Garnier should be pissed at this.

Deepika Padukone endorsed Neutrogena fine fairness. Of course now that she has the platform of mental health and an image of a thinking, talented super star, she wouldn’t be caught dead endorsing the product.

Interesting how Anushka Sharma went on record to say she will not endorse a fairness product.

Read Here:

But then she totally endorses the WHITENING body lotion.

Watch the ad here:

So how is a whitening product for the body better than it is for the face? If it was a matter of principles, shouldn’t she not have endorse the Whitening body lotion too? I am not vilifying her for her choice. This is to make a point that when it comes to celebrity brands, they are every bit as trustworthy or untrustworthy as any other brand.

The game of endorsement has just become much more competitive and intelligent. The new age PR machinery and the still emerging paparazzi culture has ensured that celebs now know that they are brands themselves and an endorsement is not them being a spokesperson for a brand but an association of two brands. An image is created to make consumers believe that the celebrity brand stands for certain values. The key word being IMAGE.

Which brings me to the point. Indian movie stars have always been the most powerful brands in the country. It is only recently though they have realized that how they can cultivate an image to boost their equity and get a premium. They will get more picky about their endorsement because the media money that every brand will spend will either further cultivate their image or tarnish it and hamper their equity.

Cola drinks and Fairness products are just the beginning. Years from now we will witness what the Western world already is witnessing, celebrities will refuse endorsements from brands that are not in sync with their social and political beliefs. This is just a beginning.





Brand Kangana v/s The Kangaroo Court

Just when you thought you had heard it all about the Kangana Ranaut and the nepotism debate, along came her latest rounds of interview blowing away the sleek satin covers of bollywood.

Brand Kangana has established itself firmly as the biggest badass of bollywood. Over decades of this film industry, men have traditionally been the brands with few women establishing themselves as one clearly.

There is Madhubala – the timeless beauty, Rekha – the enigma, Hema Malini- the dream girl, Madhuri Dixit – the dancing diva, Aishwarya Rai – the fairytale perfection and now Kangana Ranaut- the rebel with a cause.

Except the above, no female bollywood celeb has ever had a clear mind space positioning that one could crystal into a brand stature. What is exciting about Kangana is the fact that she is choosing to create her brand by destroying the set up of the industry that she belongs too. In a very twisted way, she is pulling off an Apple equivalent of the mobile phone industry in bollywood.

I remember a time about 25years ago where the biggest bollywood power centers were the trinity – not the Khans but Madhuri, Sridevi and Juhi. The 3 women together controlled much of bollywood. Look at late 80s to mid 90s, the phase during which Amitabh Bachchan was no longer the angry young man and Shahrukh khan was not the lover boy. The biggest brands of bollywood were 3 women!

Somewhere along the line, bollywood went extremely regressive. The progress made by Sridevi, Madhuri and Juhi in terms of establishing the female as an equivalent of a male star was lost. The 3 made more money than their male counterparts in many movies.

Until Kangana single handedly pointed out the double standards of the industry, every single female star was content playing an insignificant lead to a Khan in a 100cr+ movie. The era of everyone from Kareena Kapoor to Asin, Katrina Kaif to Sonakshi Sinha vying to be unnoticeable under the shadows of their male counterparts.

Brand Kangana is built without an association with any male influence. It is a brand which the youth of this country that voted Modi to power strongly identifies with.

Her latest interview in Aap ki Adalat very firmly establishes Hrithik as the pappu or Rahul Gandhi equivalent of Bollywood and herself as Modi.

Kangana is a rare example of a REBEL brand archetype in Indian industry. Long overdue and refreshing.

So while the nepotistic Kangaroo courts of bollywood heralded by the likes of Karan Johar judge her for everything from her accent to character in general, this Queen is too cool to care.

The New Blitz : Muscle Blaze

There comes a time in the evolution of every market when it witnesses a tectonic shift in its attitude towards categories that were traditionally never spoken about. One look at the supplement section of any newspaper and you know fitness and health is a permanent feature that just refuses to vanish from the sights of us comfortably lazy folks.

Some brands lure your with a promise and some by scaring you and then comes a brand that just insults you into action. The last one has seldom been seen in India. That is until a day or so ago when the brand “Muscle Blaze” stepped out of the closet to declare itself unabashedly as a supplement for body building. It dropped the pretense of nutrition and proteins and health to focus solely on what the job of the product is – Help build a better looking body.

Check out the campaign :

Laced with multiple obnoxiously good looking bodies, the brand attempts to name and shame the consumer into action and for this, one must give credit. An extremely bold move in a country where we insist on nodding our heads when we mean to say ‘NO’

Kudos to the marketing brains behind this campaign and more so to the organization and its vision to pull this category out and take the entire Chinese whispers phenomenon around it head on. Apparently, one of the best selling brands online, Muscle Blaze may just be responsible for accelerating the growth of this category to unimaginable levels.

There is very little information available on the organization brand or the creative agency behind the campaign. Either the PR is yet to begin or it is a missed opportunity given how impactful the campaign is.

For years now India has witnessed the mushrooming of gyms and health clubs and dieticians and yet no brand displayed the courage to call out what it was. Vanity is the single biggest driver of physical activity. Health is a close seconds. A subtle but crucial difference lies in the fact that “health” is something that we Indians gladly compromise on for our own selves. We only care about the health of our loved ones. Hence the scare mongering. From Saffola’s innumerable attempts to tell housewives that their husbands are about to choke on a Parantha to the concept of “shuddh aata” in India, health as a platform works only when you talk to a loved one of a consumer rather than a consumer.

Vanity, however, is a different story. It is linked to self esteem and at a deeper level to potential sexual conquests. Perhaps a reason most brands in India have been careful not to tread the path.

Muscle Blaze has very nonchalantly treated vanity as an acceptable trait. This in a county that is still in flux between a joint and nuclear family and people are just discovering the merits of living life according by a personal choice. The campaign is in-time to capitalize on an evolving change in the social fabric.

Looks like the stage is ready to set a blaze.


Back from the brink : Everyuth

You know how you never think of some brands and then suddenly you encounter something which makes you turn around and look again? Well that happened with Everyuth recently.

For the uninitiated, Everyuth is probably India’s first hard core home grown skin care brand which pitched the use of natural ingredients for skin care

The most vivid recollection from the 90s is probably with their Peel off masks. However, as competition heated up, one saw lesser and lesser from this brand which had the vision to come up with Peel Off masks, Face Scrubs, Foot scrubs and Face wash in the 90s. Brands like Garnier, Himalaya etc. were nowhere close to it and have far surpassed it backed by heavy investments and a strong on ground presence. One must wonder, why did the organization have such little faith in such a strong brand? It still is still very relevant in the niches that it operates in.

Coming back to what made me think of them – a recent commercial launching their new face wash. You can check it out on the link below

Now see, this particular commercial very subtly breaks down a lot of category codes; and breaking codes just gets me going like few things do! The protagonist is shown to have a pimple and yet she hasn’t lost her confidence. She is not seeking help from a friend or a sister. She is no damsel in distress. When was the last time that you had a protagonist in a beauty product commercial who refused to be bogged down by “log kya kahenge” ? One wonders if this route to challenge the hard core Indian phenomenon of “log kya kahenge” is conscious on the brand’s part. One also hopes it is!

The brand has put across a very well concealed feminist statement – that a girl does not have to lose confidence basis what she looks or hears about her. Done with a dash of humour, it bristles no feathers. The tagline of “Pure Skin, happy Har din” is a bit cryptic but works at a subliminal level. The attempt seems to be to pitch a happy girl as a role model and not necessarily a glamour doll.

I would have preferred if the protagonist was not so conventionally good looking though. An unusual and quirky face would have had a much bigger impact. But baby steps I guess; they are after all selling beauty.

A little background research shows there has been a new creative agency on board – JWT. A quick google also throws up a complete overhaul of the brand’s look and feel. From the dated transparent packs of 90s to the blue packs to the most recent ones. Clearly the brand is picking up the pieces and trying to move ahead with a firmer foot. The work in the recent year or so seems impressive. There is a synergy with the look of the products and the communication. While the creative agency has done a good job, differentiated too if I may add, my hunch is the brand has begun to carry the imprints of a bolder brain from the organization’s end as well.  People are the brands and the brand reflects its managers. There is clearly a younger and sharper mind in organization tinkering with the brand pushing an otherwise coma induced brand to become active and beat to the rhythm of popular trends & culture of evolving demographics.

There are a lot of strong points the brand has wrapped into this commercial. Will it bring the brand back into public consciousness? Well that depends on whether the organization will finally bet on the right horse. The market is cluttered, competitive, unforgiving and no miracle will happen without adequate eye-balls. It will take 3 to 5 years of intense exposure to make a dent and re-gain mind space that the brand has lost.

Given enough visibility, we may see a brand that can bridge the gap between Patanjali and all others. Now that would be one sweet spot to be in! Will have to keep an eye out for this one.


floating in a paper boat

Rarely does it happen that a brand gets it right from day 1. Even more rare is for that brand to be a beverage brand targetting adults. A few years ago, Hector Beverages launched paper boat drinks. A unique idea of completely Indian home-made flavours packaged in a ready to drink beverage format. What followed was a string of products from jaljeera to jamun, from aamras to golgappa pani. All positioned for adults who reflect back to simpler times and innocent childhood. Whether by design or by accident, the fact is the core working age group in India has seen a sea-change in its lifestyle. It is a generation that grew up in a pre-liberalization India. Where access to products and services was difficult and existence was much more family and community driven. Cut to today, their life is much more isolated. Has moved from spending vacations with cousins to solo back packing trips. In this massive transition, the innocence of their childhood is a fond memory and paper boat latched on to that nostalgia which no other brand even remotely thought of.

Of course the beverages aren’t just for rose tinted moments looking at the past. It is now a popular mixer in private parties and restaurants whipping up unique cocktails all over. What a way to re-mix your palette and update it to your modern needs. Everything from the basic product flavours to the packaging is unique about the brand. The “drawing” class creatives used across are so distinct it builds a highly differentiated brand presence every single time. By far one of the most thought through and intelligently handled brands in the country.

Of course, the basic theme of paper boat will continue to be relevant. The challenge is to keep updating the product offerings and communication themes to cater to the nostalgia. a 28 year old, 10 years down the line perhaps may not identify with the flavours or the Malgudi Days music used in communications recently that has a special place in the hearts of the entire 28yrs+ folks. There will be something else thought, what is hip and happening today will need to be adapted into flavours and communications 10 years down the line. If you think about it, it is a case of a brand updating itself with history rather than the present consumer trends.

Can’t wait to see how this brand evolves for the next generation that will suffer from quarter life crisis!